Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Faith and Reason

Joan has written a good paper on the Senses vs. Reason philosophical debate. She posted a copy on her latest blog entry.

I don't necessarily agree with these sorts of debates. Senses vs. Reason seems to be a false dichotomy. Your senses can be lead astray as it is not possible to perceive everything. Anyone who has examined witness testimony will realize that people's senses are very unreliable. Your reason can also be lead astray. Most of Aristotle's scientific work is crap for this reason. In ancient Greece, the great philosophers did not dirty their hands with experimentation. That would be turning great thinking into the work of mere tradesmen.

So the truth is that you need both. Sense and Reason inform each other. Together they bring you closer to the Truth than either can separately. Sense informs Reason and grounds it. Reason allows multiple senses (and individuals) to be combined into a more accurate whole. Which one of the two is more reliable depends on the specifics of each case.

Now I'm a Christian. I would hope my regular readers would have figured this out by now. Another false dichotomy we Christians encounter a lot is Faith vs. Reason. The truth is that both are necessary.

Reason is a great tool. God gave it to us after all. The problem with the Faith or Reason debate is getting the "Reason" side started. You need first principles to reason from. While those can be achieved by starting from conclusions that have already been reached previously, this is really just moving the starting point. Those conclusions had to come from somewhere, etc., etc. At some point you come down to foundational assumptions. These could be empirically derived or just "reasonable" basics. The point is that these things cannot be proven, they just have to be assumed or postulated without proof.

So what is Faith? The writer of Hebrews says "Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see." Faith is the proof for the unprovable assumptions. It is the starting point.

This doesn't have to be religious faith either. This is any faith. Faith that the scientific methodology was valid that you used to generate your foundational empirical assumption. Faith that that this result is has wide enough applicability to be useful. It all comes down to faith one way or another.

Which is why the Reason not Faith argument does work. Faith is not the antithesis of Reason, at least it doesn't have to be. Faith is not where Reason stops. Faith is where Reason starts. It is faith in both your first principles and in the reasoning process itself that allows Reason to operate in the first place. It is the foundation of Reason. Reason is built on a bedrock of Faith.

Now Faith can be misled just as your senses can be misled. People have faith in very silly things. Faith alone is pretty weak proof of anything and Reason can greatly reduce the burden of Faith necessary for belief. Ideally the conclusions reached by Reason should inform Faith, just as the assumptions made by Faith are the feedstock of Reason. Really, neither can exist alone for long.

The right answer is Faith and Reason not Faith or Reason.

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